The controversy surrounding the ownership of the N13bn ($43.4m, N23m and £27,000) found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission at the Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, took a dramatic turn on Friday evening when Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and the National Intelligence Agency claimed ownership of the money.
The National Intelligence Agency on Friday said the money belonged to it.
A national daily had earlier reported that the money belonged to the NIA. Sources at the agency confirmed to one our correspondents late Friday that the money belonged to the agency and that it had written a formal letter to President Muhammadu Buhari to claim ownership of the money.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the NIA, which is Nigeria’s foreign intelligence service, explained that the money, which was found on the seventh floor of the building, was approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan for covert operations and security projects covering a period of years.
The money was said to have been released in bits during the tenure of a former NIA director-general.
A source said that the cash was approved before the advent of the Treasury Single Account.
He stated that the Director-General of the NIA, Amb. Ayo Oke; the EFCC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu; and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Moguno, had met over the issue. A Presidency source also confirmed the meeting to one of our correspondents.
The NIA source explained that when EFCC operatives stormed the Ikoyi property on Wednesday, they were informed that the said apartment was a safe house of the NIA from which discreet operations were carried out.
The EFCC boss, however, rejected all entreaties from the NIA and entered the building, breaking the fireproof safes and taking the money.
The source, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak with the media, said, “The money belongs to the NIA. It is for covert operations and security projects covering a period of years.The DG has met with the President, he has explained everything to him. The President asked him to put everything into writing and he has done so.
“The entire chain of events was a big misunderstanding. That place was an NIA safe house and you have to understand that the NIA carries out discreet investigation in conjunction with many agencies across the world.
“On the day the EFCC men gathered around the house, the NIA reached out to Magu to explain to him that the money was the property of the Federal Government and the place was an NIA safe house. Unfortunately, the EFCC still went ahead to break down the doors.”
But Wike, who described the claim that the cash belonged to the NIA as balderdash, alleged that the immediate past governor of the state and the current Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, kept the money in the apartment.
As such, the Rivers State governor gave the Federal Government a seven-day ultimatum to return the money to the state government or be ready to face legal action.
Speaking with newsmen in Port Harcourt on Friday night, Wike said the $43m was part of the proceeds from the sale of a gas turbine by the immediate past administration, adding that the gas turbine was initially built by the Peter Odili administration.
The governor further challenged the Federal Government to set up a commission of inquiry to probe the source of the huge money found in the flat, insisting that the funds belonged to Rivers people and should be returned to the owners within seven days.
He said, “All these things they are saying that the $43m belong to the Nigerian Intelligence Agency is balderdash. When did the NIA begin to keep money in houses? As I speak to you now, the Federal Government is so embarrassed.
“I want the President to set up a commission of inquiry. We don’t want to fight anybody; they should set up a commission of inquiry or return our money within seven days. If they don’t, we will take all necessary legal actions and NIA will come and prove where they got the money from.
“The $43m is the proceeds of the sale of the gas turbine sold by the immediate past administration. The gas turbine was built by the (Peter) Odili administration. It (gas turbine) was sold to Sahara Energy.
“The turbine was sold for $319m. But as of May 2015, what was in the account was $204,000. We will avail ourselves and we will be present at the commission of inquiry expected to be set up by the Federal Government. If we are invited, we will come. There is no contradiction in this at all, but I know they (FG) will not agree.”
Wike maintained that he would complete the monorail project if the Federal Government returned the $43m to Rivers State, adding that it would be “projects galore” in the state should the money be returned back to its original owner.
“Part of the money from the sale of the gas turbine was used to fund the All Progressives Congress campaign. We are telling the world that the money belongs to us. If they (FG) give us the money, I will complete the monorail project,” he said.
When contacted, the media aide to Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, Mr. David Iyofor, said he would react to Wike’s claim on Saturday (today).
The money has since been deposited into the account of the Central Bank of Nigeria following an interim forfeiture order granted by a Federal High Court in Lagos.
The court had also ruled that if the owner of the money did not show up within 30 days, it would be forfeited to the federal Government permanently.